…It was a spontaneous decision.
Alexander Grivko was restoring the castle at Pierrefonds, and, like a true Parisian, used to come to upper Normandy to breathe in the fresh ocean air and get inspired by the power of Alabaster cliffs, make jokes with familiar giant seagulls.
And suddenly he found out that Villa Roxelane on the cliff d’Amont, with stunning views of Port d’Aval and Eagle is up for sale. So he informed his Il Nature bureau partners about it simultaneously with the crazy idea of laying out a parametric garden under the clouds of Étretat. The purchase was made immediately.
“I have been living in Etretat for three years, and only now I realize how many things should have coincided so that everything worked out,” says Svetlana Aleshina, manager of Les Jardins d’Etretat. She smiles and her reflection appears in mirror-polished armor of a passing garden guard. Everything happened in record time, and the measured rhythm of a quiet old town slightly changed.
“Sasha was so excited by the idea of planting a garden that he did not take into account one thing. This is a cliff. Here the earth gives birth to a stone, which is used to support the house and decorate the walls, and before planting the garden, we had to extract an extraordinary amount of this stone, bring fertile soil and only after that we could bring plants.
And considering the fact that the natural landscape of Etretat is under the protection of UNESCO, we actually could do nothing, not-a-thing here”
The Il Nature team obtained permission to expand the site, convinced the municipality and the mayor’s office that the gardens would open new perspectives. They planted the first part of the garden in eight months, and after a year and a half, Les Jardins d’Etretat welcomed its first visitors.
Alexander Grivko (23rd place in the top 100 of the world’s best landscape designers and architects) has overcome the Earth’s gravity with cosmic speed and created a garden which defies every single law of physics.
Even veteran gardeners having been cutting the waves of the English Channel in the neo-futuristic Les Jardins d’Etretat for three years, still cannot believe their eyes, amazed by the forty-five degrees height difference.
When the garden first opened, the waves from the Elaeagnus silverberry of Ebbingey were not strong, but according to forecasts, in a few years they will turn into a high fragrant labyrinth, and man will be able to “swim” in it.
It makes sense to save a photo of the actual hedgerow. Just in case.
Full of philosophy and meanings, Les Jardins d’Etretat combines the best of the nature of Normandy with contemporary art, adding unpredictability. Samuel Salcedo’s rubber sculptures from the “Raindrops” series are not just face-emotions expressing feelings or a symbol-reflection of the inhabitants of the seabed. This is a kind of coded message by garden creators.
“It seems to us important to surprise and evoke a variety of emotions, therefore we arranged the sculptures so that they do not dominate over the garden and appear on your way as surprises,” co-owner Marc Dumas of Les Jardins d’Etretat reveals almost all the secrets.
One of these surprises is invisible at first sight. I was touched by its sound at one of the turns in the garden … ZEN, and only a minute later I saw 33 terracotta sculptures floating in the air. This is ‘Until The Word Is Gone’ – sound installation in the form of a sound wave of the word “art” spoken in 60 languages. This is the work of Sergey Katran and Willy Melnikov.
German sculptor Thomas Rosler strikes the imagination with huge oak trunks, he treats petrified trees so that they become warm and “soft” to the touch, immediately inviting you to take a break. In the shade of living trees. On a curved couch near the villa, and in the Avatar garden.
Les Jardins d’Etretat is a modern interpretation of a garden, the garden without beginning or end. Like the ocean, the garden changes in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening .. Every hour something happens with shades of green. But it’s not just about the visual perception.
I went up to Le Jardin for three times, and every time I became suspicious (it was no coincidence that I started my journey from the Detective Hotel, right from the Hercule Poirot room) that Alexander Grivko cheated on us all. He brought the concept of the garden beyond the scope of static landscape art, making it temporal. Like an avant-garde cinema-garden or music-garden.
I do not know yet which playlists Alexander used to listen in Normandy, but subconsciously the musical term “agogic”, which means the highest mastery of performance with almost imperceptible deviations from tempo and rhythm — accelerations and decelerations, has emerged out of subconscious itself. Kind of sleuth’s intuition. I can hear this freedom and agogic in the landscape, here, in these disciplined gardens, hanging over the ocean. There are ‘garden fans’ among the inhabitants of Étretat. They come with families several times a month, sitting in their favorite places, always noticing some new nuances, every time informing Svetlana that there is «shangement» – changes movements that made the garden better.
“We live on four winds. They blow from all sides. With a speed of 160 km per hour. And the mowed plants are fragile. In general, all true things in life are fragile. – says Marc Dumas philosophically and conspiratorially at the same time. Love is fragile, life is fragile, art … one cannot truly live without this fragility”
An hour earlier he launched the new, non-fragile longgame into the future. He opened “The first international exhibition of modern landscape sculpture Double Jue (Man and Nature: “Double Game”). Twenty-four sculptors from all around the world have participated in the exhibition. Double Jeu, a living exhibition-laboratory explores the movements of man and nature from both angles and registers relationships in all possible aspects, from harmonious to consuming and, sometimes, even destructive.
Organizers were selecting exhibiting works for the exhibition-competition for six months. The character, temperament, and genre of sculpture -fabulousness, and vitality, grotesque and fragility, tension, and meditativeness, destruction and birth – were considered in addition to parametric criteria.
You can see there Agnieszka Gadzik, Gianna Dispenza, Gevorg Tadevosyan, Paola Grizi, Hyvel Pratley, Daria Surovtseva, Nazar Bilyk, Shungit Chao and others among the 24 participants.
The exhibition-competition will last until November 1 and promises to be an annual
The Grand Prix, the first and second prizes (“For the most original idea) will be awarded by a professional jury.
The winner will receive an award of 10,000 euros, his work will appear in other experimental gardens in Europe, which are designed by IL Nature. The third prize will be determined by secret public voting. Every visitor to Les Jardins d’Etretat has the opportunity to choose an art object on his own taste until the end of October.
The sculpture “Summer” by Gevorg Tadevosyan seems to be becoming a new interactive Instagram point of the garden. People like to peer into the ocean, standing on Claude Monet’s favorite place, focusing on a given circle, embodying the concept of the organizers of Double Jue “Man and Nature” in each frame.
The first owner of the villa Roxelane, the French actress Madame Thébault, often hosted Claude Monet and was the first to see his sketches and paintings – they were literally born on her terrace.
Madame Thébault loved the colors and flowers more than the trees. The richest collection of orchids and gentle maple grove, just a few beeches and lonely pines. While preparing for the role of Roksolana, a legendary slave who became the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the actress planted orchids in the garden, in honor of each of the sultan’s concubines.
The first oyster farm of Marie-Antoinette was founded in the 18th century at the foot of the cliff d’Aval. You can stop by it even today.
In the XIX century, Etretat was a place of inspiration and power for impressionist artists.
In XXI, alabaster cliffs were discovered by filmmakers. The last film “Monsieur et Madame Adelman” was shot at the level of the gardens, just twenty meters from the entrance to the Les Jardins d’Etretat.
In the time of the film’s premiere, it already existed in the drawings, apparently as well as in someone’s dreams.
Thanks to Alexander Grivko Etretat is now the city of two eras, not of just two levels.
Etretat Gardens are located at Avenue Damilaville, 76790 Étretat, France
and open Monday-Sunday, 10 am-5p.m
Tel: +33 2 35 27 05 76